ICSA calls for ‘comprehensive research’ on TB in deer

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has accused the Government of “turning a blind eye” to the issue of TB in deer, and how it can be transmitted to cattle, despite insistence from officials that there is no significant link in most of the country.

According to Hugh Farrell, the ICSA’s animal health and welfare chairman, a research programme is necessary to uncover if there is a link between both animals in the spread of TB.

“It is no longer acceptable that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine turn a blind eye to the potential link,” said Farrell.

There are numerous examples of bovine TB blackspots coinciding with areas where wild deer populations are out of control and encroaching on farmland.

“It is a stated objective of the department to eliminate TB but this cannot be achieved unless we know exactly what is going on with TB in deer and what can be done to eliminate the risk of transmission to cattle,” he added.

Ongoing debate

Last month, during a sitting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill insisted that there is a correlation between TB in deer and TB in cattle, and claimed that saying otherwise “won’t wash” with farmers.

However, Eoin Ryan, senior superintending veterinary inspector for the department, who was addressing the meeting, said there was “no evidence that deer play a significant role in transmitting TB to cattle in most of the country”.

Speaking to AgriLand in response to Farrell’s comments, Ryan reiterated that point, saying: “The department continues to conduct research into this issue, and has found that there is no evidence that, outside of Co. Wicklow, TB is being transmitted from deer to cattle.”

Wickow is currently the worst TB blackspot in the country, and the cattle, deer, and badgers there that have TB all suffer from the same strain of the disease. Ryan said that the department is continuing to work with farmers in the area.

“It is not the case that deer never pass TB onto cattle, but likewise it is not that case that deer always pass TB onto cattle,” said Ryan.

Farrell contends, however, that real evidence is lacking on this issue:

There must be a research programme and there must be full openness and transparency around the results. There is anecdotal evidence of deer being shot but deemed totally unsuitable for the food chain because of chronic infection.

“When farmers have brought this to the attention of the department, there has been a marked reluctance to test the deer in question. This is not good enough; we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand,” concluded Farrell.

However, Ryan maintained that the department will test any deer for TB if it is sent in for examination.